Read the introduction by guest editor Robyn Schiff.

 


Watching The King and I with My Son

 

As the toy three-inch ebony elephant
hoists his mango wood knobbed proboscis
up and over the empty air above
our set to say come in,

his wooden mate, bends as any
good subject might kneel, lessening herself
by degrees. Her elephantine girth ends
in one thumb-sized pate etched, flecked in gold

for luck. Home. My arm around my child's
shoulders. Clock, keys, letters on the dresser
where tick pleads the tock and a kind of chronicle
flickers on its throne, offering

altered scale, wanting worship for another
era's place. Once, a message sent "by his blessing
of the highest Superagency of the whole
Universe, The King of Siam," offered 

up true beasts of burden, though this
isn't in the movie. War between the States
about to begin. His majesty told
honest Abe back then "since elephants,

being of great size and strength,
can travel through uncleared
woods and matted jungles where no
carriage and cart roads have yet been made...."        

She too, made to help, though of small size
and great strength, his Anna, who traveled
across oceans no female had yet graced,
descended the gangplank whistling

a happy getting to know you tune. You are teacher.
When lifting her bell curved skirts, each hoop
became a less and lesser equator to cross
on its way toward her hand-span waist,

roping her that much closer in. Afraid,
but holding herself high. Brave, irksome
Anna. Her whisperings like a mosquito's
mini-insistent whine in the King's ear

as he slept on silken banquettes made him
think he dreamt her high electric insect
timbres tumbling: give me, please, my house.
He's broken a promise. Now her one thought

of home fills his with the children singing
all day there's no place like it
until he's nearly driven out of his mind.
A gold medallion's filigree meddles the beast

of burden's back. Stronger than she looks,
even opulently thin as a gold tendril
still rimming the silk worm's octagonal
chrysalis often is before it gets born

again. One rope tied
many times to a baby elephant's leg
lets it struggle every day
while convincing it forever not to.

Force yoked to the teak log hauled
along the forest floor below
an undercanopy's intact house (give over,
give out, give in) tells us a single mindset

wins in the end no matter how many tons
our mouse-gray beast gains in the flesh. 
You are asleep on my chest.
Dearest, stay as long as you can,

your mouse-sized totems assigned
to ward off evil, do. Her wish, a house
to own. In the other tall-to-small tale,
a queen dreams the god-to-be circles

her person three times before entering
her womb as a small white elephant.
Son, the reason you are
is the reason I am still reasoning.

 

   


At Wedgewood Boulder with Tallis Scholars

 

You, rock everlasting near 25th and Pine,
lacking in faith
or clues from the umpteen millennia
spent standing
on the same spot: this week I signed up
to keep
you clean. Have at hand my suds and brushes,
rags,
cans of Goof-Off Graffiti Remover in the same
gray
shade as your surface, the one ablated
many times over
by glacier before the mother bulk moved on.
Hatch marks.
Dents. Large and small striations. Neighbors coming
home.
And when the slow car searching for its turn
swerves
headlights all over your lichen scarred face, I find
the divots
called chatter marks, mossy flecks, gold. There's
the tag
that could be pound sign or face I need to erase,
plus, this
half a spray-painted blue cross has just got to come off.
I scrub,
lisping bristles at the little histories. With my earbuds
plugged in
I can add the choral singers, hope rising from a distant
century
right into this sundown. In credo, the human
voices.
Crack open, give it, screams the young crow
astrut
now in someone's mulch and dry grasses
until
the parent black comes back with its cracker.
Here's the give
and get, my aerosol can's pshtt, then coat, then arm
sweeping clean,
outwash of this hour in excelsis and also that home-
grown girl keeping time,
bobbing along to house music. Flute case light
against
her bare thigh, she's the one I remember
so tiny,
toddler age, stumbling her stubby fingers out
to catch
the as-yet unnamed air. Listen, rock, im-
movable
weight, if in the by and by you'll give
the lie
to us ever having lived, then what?  Have brought
for your base
the striped tulips, maiden hair fern, two
bricks
and board for a low bench.  I trace
the rough
with my finger tip's small pyramid. Voca
me, goes.
the singing. The younger crow strikes a bottle to be sure
it's empty,
the child puts her key in the latch.

 

 


Since My Mother Believes Each Time You Kill a Thing You'll Be Reborn in Its Shape

 

Swatting the wall's one more
gnat I have to come back as

             Wasn't she right
                                      salting the sidewalk slug
                                      till it writhed too much
                                      how small dose deet for
                                      woolly aphid just got the cat pukey

As for the wheel in the sky she says
             hello justice, earth turn,                                     life loan, largest urge

                                      Or I say, hi there you evermore
homey fact of glutted unignorable globe,
             a rising population coming up from
the male's charming skeetereater
                         female's jimminy spinners that can bespeak

a multitude of creatures

Course died under my roof this year countless
house- fruit- and crane-flies
spiders, term- and dust- mites, one feline, a hamster, no humans

Any house houses invisible
resource wars
wood-
water-
air conditioned air variable
interest
rates, fuels
eon-ushered from fossil

those lives proceeding from seed

this peach skin, for instance, bacteria bevy'd,
its rune-y pit of cracked riverlets,
deficits, in the hole,

my would-be
birth canyons                                       options

this spacious, excitable open

Most days I'd Lysol every crawler
from its cunning, give the least
its comeuppance. Once hired

a guy, extreme
discount exterminator
who laid down his mix of mere
mutations

as if I was ok with the one-winged
baseboard scrambling cockroach
jutting up,
body gone all
rust color wrong

as if I shall be
the five legs left off angle,
head abutting seeking
any every corner hungry dark

as if focus
shares a shape
spliced by the many-millioned

planet, my deficit
unlikely to balance my rage,
the proof of our union
the chemical spray's straight line connecting us,

with pit bedragoned beneath the guardrails,
and matter, mater

what a time we had
crouched in a cave both making and un-
by flickerlight

You were not yourself perhaps
bearer and being

Dissembling
resembling

to seem                                    in utero

how at home    johnthebaptist like       leaping

Shall I sleep-eat in the empty garden again
Mother
munching at zeroes, lipping at roseleaves

for this same space      has both conceived      and brought them forth

Owners of our actions, heirs of

Forgive
the story abstracted
the bets hedged
hobbled by half

my love

come in,           Thou               thorn                   although

 

 


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